I am genuinely fascinated by the science of fat loss.
When I was struggling with my weight about six years ago, I decided to enroll in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in order to find some answers.
During my time there, I was introduced to hundreds of different dietary theories. I read the work of dozens of experts; physicians, researchers and health coaches, working to understand what causes us to gain weight and how we can reverse it.
Because let’s face it: media-driven, body image issues aside, we humans are getting quite fat. It’s a problem. All you have to do is look around any public place in America to see that more of us are overweight and/or obese than we are lean and fit. And remember, ‘obese’ is technically 30 pounds overweight or more, just 30 pounds above your healthy upper limit BMI.
Obesity is an epidemic. It has been since the 90s. And it’s devastating our health care system. It’s causing incalculable and unnecessary suffering in the people afflicted by it. They’re at a higher risk for almost every major chronic illness. They suffer health complications. And they deal with the emotional consequences of the cultural stigma attached to it on a daily basis.
Worst of all, the conventional wisdom dispensed to fight it is failing us miserably.
I often wonder how long we’ll continue with the same old approach of trying to ‘eat less and move more’, before we admit our overwhelming defeat. If eating less and moving more were the cure, how come none of us can manage to do it with any lasting success? I know I couldn’t. And evidence is mounting to prove that no one can.
So today, with the support of my favorite expert, Gary Taubes, and the example of my own personal experience, I’d like to present an argument for a minimalist approach to fat loss instead.
It’s an approach that’s become clear over my six years of research and experimentation. One I believe will help any of us, regardless of how much weight we want to lose, get lean for good and finally put this struggle behind us.
By the way, I’m not calling you obese. But all of us, regardless of our waist circumference, can benefit from understanding why it is that we humans get fat, and what, if anything, we can do about it. And that’s really best explored through the lens of obesity.
I was also inspired to write this by the uptick in new subscribers Bridget and I are seeing through The Simple Cleanse offering. We assume this might have something to do with the 4th of July looming about six weeks out. (But who’s counting the days ’till we ask our friends to push us in the pool with our t-shirts on, right?)
I’m also not saying that it’s “easy” to lose weight, or more specifically, fat. I’ve been at this long enough to know that that’s simply not true. There are a lot of variables when it comes to how and why we eat and the genetic makeup of our body plays a role as well. But what I am saying, is that the science of why we get fat remains the same, regardless of those variables.
What I’m about to argue is that if we cut through all the noise and distraction in the media and diet industry, let go of the conventional wisdom we’ve been clinging to for so long, and focus on simplifying our approach to fat loss, we really can do it. And it won’t be so bad.
There is one fact that, if embraced and acted upon, will radically improve our chances of successful, long-term weight loss. This is what I’ll offer as our minimalist approach.
We can reverse weight gain and feel good in our own skin. We can do it quickly, starting immediately. There will be sacrifice, of course, but that sacrifice will be worth it in my opinion. And it’s definitely favorable to the sacrifices that conventional wisdom has asked of us for the past few decades without any success in return.
We know why we get fat.
And we know how we can fix it.
So shall we begin?
First up, let’s examine some bullshit, conventional wisdom that really ticks Bridget and I off.
Myth Number 1: We get fat because we eat too much.
Actually: We eat too much because we’re getting fat.
Increased appetite is a side effect of the metabolic process of getting fat, not the cause. It’s like a teenage boy with an insatiable appetite, his body has decided to grow, due to metabolic and hormonal changes, and so his appetite increases to accommodate that growth.
He’s eating more because he is growing. He is not growing because he is eating more.
This makes perfect sense, right? Eating cheeseburgers won’t make you grow two inches. But growing two inches will makes you eat more cheeseburgers.
The same is true for the process of getting or growing fat.
We eat too much because we’re getting fat. We don’t get fat because we eat too much.
This is the saddest fact in all of this. When our bodies, through metabolic and hormonal processes, decide to gain weight, our appetites increase. Just when conventional wisdom begins hammering on about ‘eating less’, our bodies are simultaneously begging us to eat more. And our bodies are very hard, if not impossible, to ignore.
I know in my own life, the period of time when I was restricting calories the most – through diets like Weight Watchers and other calorie counting techniques – I was the heaviest I’ve ever been and also the hungriest. Like, the hungriest ever.
Myth Number 2: If we ate fewer calories, we’d lose weight.
Actually: A couple of things here. If consuming too many calories was the cause of gaining weight, then obesity couldn’t exist in populations where food was scarce and malnutrition was rampant, but it does. And we’d also be able to cure it with conventional diet wisdom of calories in/calories out – but, we can’t.
Historically speaking, obesity is associated with poverty, and often exists in large percentages of the population in places where food is scare. Around the globe, malnutrition effects both the thin and the obese alike. In fact, many obese people are also malnourished. That being the case, it’s hard to argue that too much food is the root cause. People can become obese even when there isn’t enough to eat.
Conventional diet wisdom has done nothing to improve the situation. Reducing calories simply doesn’t work. In fact, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that all who try (though they might lose moderate amounts of weight in the short term) eventually gain it all back and then some.
Now sure, if you were forced into starvation you’d wither away at first, but then, you’d die. And it’s very difficult to force ourselves into starvation mode in real world. Besides, is something so uncomfortable, unnatural, difficult to maintain, and that ultimately results in death, something we can really call a cure?
Myth Number 3: We’re fat because we’re sedentary.
Actually: As is the case with an increased appetite, lethargy is a side effect of getting fat, not the cause.
Just like those teenage boys eat a ton, they also sleep a ton, because they’re growing. The same is true for gaining weight. When we start gaining weight, we get tired and we become sedentary to support that growth. The sedentary lifestyle is not the cause.
Another fact to note, manual labor, or a more active daily lifestyle, is also associated with poorer populations that experience malnutrition and obesity together. These populations generally earn their living though harder physical work than the wealthy and are therefore actually more active. And yet, they still have large percentages of obese people among them.
Another argument against this wisdom is that, along with the exercise explosion in the U.S. since the late 70s, we’ve still managed to have an explosion of obesity simultaneously. According to the conventional wisdom, shouldn’t more activity in the average human result in a leaner population and not a fatter one?
People didn’t always exercise in their leisure time, it was considered odd. But they were leaner. It just doesn’t add up.
Myth Number 4: If we moved more, we’d lose weight.
Actually: Exercise has negligible effects on weight loss.
This ‘move more’ advice is based on the fact that exercise burns off extra calories that would otherwise make us fat. But as Taubes states in Why We Get Fat, “As it turns out, very little evidence exists to support the belief that the number of calories we expand has any effect on how fat we are.”
And sure, those who exercise, marathons runners for example, are generally lean. But this doesn’t prove they are lean because they exercise. Perhaps they exercise because they are lean. They just can’t come up with compelling evidence that exercise makes you lean, and they’ve been trying to do so for a century. Don’t you think they would have proved it by now? If it was such a basic truth?
Exercise is good for us for a lot of reasons, I’m not arguing that it isn’t. I’m only arguing that it doesn’t do much to help us lose weight.
In fact, this combo pack of conventional diet wisdom, ‘eat less and move more’, is the exact formula for stimulating appetite. So this wisdom, if followed (as I tried to six years ago) just winds up biting us in the ass. You’re fat because you eat too much and move too little, so the cure is to eat less and move more, but that only serves to increase your already insatiable appetite so it’s harder and harder to do both.
Ummm, what? No wonder the struggle is so real.
Okay, Dana, if we don’t get fat because we eat too much and move too little, then why do we get fat? Huh?
“The science tells us that obesity is ultimately the result of a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one…” – Gary Taubes, Why We Get Fat.
Basically, we don’t get fat because we eat too many calories, we get fat because we have too much insulin, a hormone, in our blood.
And now I’m gonna quote Taubes a whole bunch because he’s smarter than me.
First, when insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat in our fat tissue: when these levels fall, we liberate fat tissue and burn it for fuel. This has been known since the early 1960s and has never been controversial.
Second, our insulin levels are effectively determined by the carbohydrates we eat – not entirely, but for all intents and purposes. The more carbohydrates we eat, and the easier to digest and sweeter they are, the more insulin we will ultimately secrete, meaning that the level of it in our bloodstream is greater and so is the fat we retain in our fat cells.
In other words, the science itself makes clear that hormones, enzymes, and growth factors regulate our fat tissue, just as they do everything else in the human body, and that we do not get fat because we overeat; we get fat because the carbohydrates in our diet make us fat. The science tells us that obesity is ultimately the result of a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one – specifically, the stimulation of insulin secretion caused by eating easily digestible, carbohydrate-rich foods: refined carbohydrates, including flour and cereal grains, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and sugars, like sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup. These carbohydrates literally make us fat, and by driving us to accumulate fat, they make us hungrier and they make us sedentary.
Take that, conventional wisdom.
The Key Takeaway:
What’s fantastic about understanding all of this is that you never have to go on a diet again. You don’t have to count calories or exercise like a crazy person. You just have to reduce foods that make our bodies accumulate fat by increasing our insulin secretion, like cereal, bread, pasta, potato chips and white rice while eating real foods like veggies and eggs and fish. Essentially, just stop eating processed grains and sugars on a regular basis and you’ll see your body release fat.
The Minimalist Approach to Fat Loss: Eat real food, and fewer carbs, most of the time.
What do you think?
If you liked this post, please share it with your friends on Facebook.
And if you’d like to get stared on a healthier eating plan for fat loss today, check out The Simple Cleanse, it’s free!